Stuffed – Full Length Fantasy for Free on Inkitt

Good morning, lovelies 🙂

So my novel Stuffed has been up on Inkitt for a while now. If you’re someone who was about when I was doing a lot more blogging, you may remember me referring to this particular novel as “Tom”, after the protagonist. It’s a fantasy/thriller-ish/young adult-ish story set in a world resembling the late 1800s where steam trains and gramophones are the height of technology and mystical creatures near extinction. Stuffed is intended to be the first of a three-part series. It may be some time before I start Book 2 … it’ll be an interesting process. My style has changed a lot since I wrote this.

Stuffed is currently entered in Inkitt’s Grand Novel Contest – winner gets published. Good prize, yes 🙂 Love-heart votes required to push it up on the site listing – basically, more love = more love. And Stuffed would love your love, as would I.

So if you’ve a spare few moments – or more … I think last check it was roughly 136,000 words, so would probably take a few sittings – I would love if anyone could give my novel a look and a vote. Any comments and feedback would  be adored – it’s currently sitting on 5/5 from the lovely three reviews I’ve gotten so far. Check out these reviews, maybe, if you’re wondering what it’s about.

Also if you’re wondering what it’s about, here’s the short summary:

Snatched by a taxidermy-happy countess and her unsettling assistant, young shapechanger Tom Ness only wants to live. But how can he save his skin when that’s all she wants?

Also if you’re wondering what it’s about, for your enjoyment, an excerpt from Chapter 1: The Silver Vixen:

The silence in the shallow valley but for the breath of wind through pines was total. Weary and weighted by age, Vera did nothing to disturb that quiet, even as coughs clawed to escape her withered lungs. She hid in a tangle of scrub just beyond a little shack. Micah squatted beside her. He had chosen their cover; its view of the dwelling was uninterrupted. Micah’s black eyes were fixed on its crude door.

The shack stood—slumped, rather—at the base of the valley. There was a little glade there dotted with flowers. The patches of heather and clover brought to mind a classic cottage garden, though the clearing appeared natural. There were signs a few trees had been felled for fuel—a cluster of wood and a small axe rested by the wall nearest. Vera was pleased to note those trees chopped down had been replaced. Most were saplings, but several fine, strong young fellows stretched their branches into the air alongside seniors.

There was little evidence of the outside world, only a lead pipe stuffed through the thatched roof to pump out smoke. The shack’s walls were stone to Vera’s thigh, then interwoven twigs given strength by clay, insulation against the wind. The only window was shuttered; they couldn’t see inside.

But there was no one inside. Not yet.

Though the shack was primitive, probably constructed by its inhabitant—apparently they were determined, though lacked notable building skill— it blended so well with the undergrowth it was near invisible from all but a few perfect angles. Vera and Micah had traipsed the taiga for three weeks before they happened upon it, about to sit down for lunch. Vera’s grasp of the forest’s spoils and the rabbits and scrub fowls Micah shot kept them well fed.

From above, the taiga was a stretch of embroidered velvet; green, grey, black and glimmering night blue. Such fabric spun the gowns of countesses of old, donned to welcome the most esteemed of guests and dazzle at the most important parties. Streams and rivers twined flashing silver chains and sparkles of white—evening frost on twigs and stone—were tiny precious gems. The great lake was the crowning piece: a glistening sapphire brooch so large it would topple any silly old countess who pinned it to her breast.

Vera was a present-day countess. She wore no such finery, not now—not even when she was young, some sixty years ago. The only jewellery she wore was a small pendant on a fine chain. It was as precious to Vera as life. She never took it off, the pendant forever nestled to her bony chest.

The fresh scent of pine on cold air seemed auspicious and filled Vera with expectation, stalling surrender to the ache of her stiff old body as late afternoon eased toward twilight. Her information promised the shack’s inhabitant would return by then. It couldn’t spend the night exposed. Even in late summer, it grew bitterly cold in the dark so far south.

Light waned. Vera reached beneath her collar and gripped her pendant. Beside her, Micah was a statue. Though Vera was intent as he, his eyes were sharp, her own touched by age. It was Micah who first spotted their quarry.

A silver vixen ambled into the clearing with a scatter of needles and pine cones. Though fleet, her gait was clumsy, as though the vixen was unbearably tired or her limbs slightly crooked. The creature padded toward the shack; the clearing her home and she was unafraid of danger there. Vera’s gnarled grip tightened. The glass capsule of her pendant, around which gold and gems were fashioned, seemed to pulse, the rare syrup within rippling green-black as Vera’s hand trembled.

The last rays of sunlight filtering from heaven vanished.

The vixen gave a shudder, nose right to the tip of her limp tail aquiver.

Vera almost groaned and clutched her pendant all the more tightly. Any other capsule might have shattered, but this was a Moore heirloom. It would take more than pressure to damage Vera’s pendant; what it protected was too precious.

The vixen began to change. Her limbs lengthened and fine silver hair retracted, leaving human skin. Her tail vanished, body lengthening and bending upright so she stood on her hind legs. Soon nothing remained of the vixen. A naked woman stood in her place.

She was bent and crooked, thin silver curls sweeping to her wrinkled waist.

She was old. Older even than Vera.

Micah uttered a soft sound of satisfaction, no more than a sigh of wind. But Vera’s heart dipped, crestfallen.

The very old shapechanger stepped into a pair of worn boots and took a faded bluebell dress from a nail stuck in her door. It was a young woman’s dress: practical, smart attire for ducking out to the market, taking tea with friends or visiting relatives. At least, it would have been fifty years ago. Vera had owned several like it, buttoned down the bodice on an eye-pleasing curve, tied with pretty white sashes.

‘Countess, what’s wrong?’ Micah asked, barely moving his lips as the shapechanger wriggled into her dress. It was very loose—she was as string held up by some miracle. ‘She’s just what we need. I’ll set the traps once she sleeps and we’ll have her at first light.’

‘She is too old,’ Vera sighed, deflated. Despite deep regret, she couldn’t tear her eyes from the magnificent creature. The aged shapechanger took a stout cane, muttering about disobedient kits and quarrels over mates. Her voice was the scratch of sand on stone, the rustle of dried leaves. A voice of the earth and forest. Leaning heavily on her cane, she tottered about patches of vegetables at the edge of her clearing, gardens disordered so they appeared wild. The shapechanger filled a small sack with a few potatoes, onions, carrots and a sprig of thyme.

‘Too old, Countess? What do you mean?’ Micah asked, eyes narrowing.

‘She is too old,’ Vera repeated, initial devastation fizzling to sad resignation. She was used to disappointment, but the loss of her precious shapechanger hit hard. ‘She is beautiful, but how would she look by our other pieces? The shapechanger is our very last creature to collect. I want perfection.’

Micah wasn’t impressed. Their contact, a tanner from the south, had written of a story widespread in his town, that silver foxes became human with the setting sun and threw great parties filled with food, wine and dance. Scornful of the tanner’s reliability, Micah had reluctantly accompanied his eager mistress south; the countess had hunted shapechangers for over half a century and lived for such tip-offs. His fervour on the hunt had kindled when they found faint boot prints where no sensible villager would roam, and discovering the dwelling had sparked terrific excitement. At last seeing the shapechanger, all recent hardships were now worth the great effort he’d spent.

That it had been pointless was not what Micah wanted to hear.

‘We have spent the last month slogging through this damn forest, tailing every silver fox we’ve come across. Now you forsake possibly your very last opportunity to complete the Moores’ collection for mere cosmetic concerns?’

‘It is not only that,’ Vera insisted, eyes locked to the shapechanger as she ambled to her door and opened it with a creak. As though a signal to charge, a quintet of kits bounded from a nearby bush and skittered through her legs, barrelling into the shack. She sighed, but chuckled with two vixens and a fox that followed more sedately. They gazed up at her, noses twitching.

‘Yes, you can come in. At least you’ve got manners to ask. Those kits…’

She shook her head as though nothing could be done with them.

‘Let’s get in, then. Hope the kits’ bellies’re full, else they’ll be disappointed. Getting my fill of roots tonight—bowels’ve been letting me know I’m not getting enough.’

She chuckled again. The foxes seemed to join in.

‘Might have a bit of old fowl lying around. They can fight over it, if they’re diresome hungry.’

Impatient as his mistress listened, entranced by the one-sided conversation, Micah reclaimed Vera’s attention.

‘Tell me then, Countess Veradine: why would you abandon your life’s work? Why would you forsake your dream?’

‘Do not be so dramatic,’ Vera chided, but Micah scowled. ‘I am hardly giving it up. It is only she cannot be collected. She just cannot. She is…’

‘Too old,’ Micah grumbled.

‘We need something younger: a young, firm shapechanger that will heal well. Our traps might kill a creature as old as her.’

‘If that’s the problem, I don’t think we need to use traps,’ Micah said, again eyeing the door, lids so narrowed he might squint through solid wood at his target. ‘We can ambush her inside. I can overcome a small skulk easily,’ he declared, hand at the revolver on his hip. ‘And she can’t put up much of a fight, old as she is. I would be gentle, Countess.’

‘I know you would handle her with utmost care,’ Vera said. Micah behaved gentlemanly towards women whether toddler or school girl, maiden, married or crone. Perhaps due to his time in the army, he considered women rather delicate, as well. The few times Vera had been annoyed with Micah was when he hinted that, as a woman, Vera was in any way incapable. ‘But such an old body may not take well to the mounting process.’

‘What of the kits?’ Micah wondered, unwilling to give up on their prize. ‘Or the younger vixens and fox? They are the perfect age.’

‘But they are not shapechangers,’ Vera said sadly.

‘If she’s lived her life with the foxes, no doubt she’s bred. They could be hers. They might just change on different schedules. This is such a rare opportunity, Countess,’ Micah pressed. ‘We must be sure.’

‘I am sure. Shapechangers do not pass on their abilities,’ Vera reminded. Micah grimaced. Vera had taught him that. He’d read it many times in the museum. ‘If they could, no doubt enough of the creatures would remain that I wouldn’t be so desperate to find one.’

‘Of course,’ Micah replied.

‘And if the tanner’s story is true, and her schedule renders her vixen in daylight, how could she have carried any offspring? They would not have survived.’

‘You are right, of course,’ Micah relented grudgingly, but gave a short bow where he crouched. ‘I’m sorry to complain, Countess. Disappointment is a brute of a thing.’

‘That it is,’ she smiled sadly. The two waited until they heard the scamper of kits at play within the shack and a crackle as dry kindling was set alight. Then Micah helped his mistress to her feet. Together, starting slow to stretch cramped muscles, they began the long trek from the taiga.

Hooray if you read this far 🙂 Hope you go on to read the rest at Inkitt!

A Say in Politics/Pressure

And now, a randomly generated scene …

The first, in fact, not generated by random words, but by actual events. Yesterday was weird.

I feel a disclaimer might be in order for those who know something about Australian politics:  I like the outgoing PM; I like the incoming PM. I don’t really know how to feel about the situation, apart from the mildly nauseating anger as to certain issues that were involved, however distantly (some might claim) in the outgoing PM’s departure. This scene did not spring directly from their drama. Rather, it developed from the general focus on politics.

I’ve definitely gone with a certain style here and made a few grammatical choices; I’m not sure how it’ll come across. Suggestions always welcome.

And before vanishing below the picture, I’d like to throw out a bit of admiration and respect to two incredible political women:  the one in Canberra and the one in Texas.

Phone

‘Are you going to do something? You have to!’

The numbers counted up, skewing to the right – far too much skew. The pie charts and bar graphs grew more and more complicated, the experts more excited. The ticker was in a frenzy trying to keep up; results from across the state poured into election offices to be frantically compiled and conveyed to stressed news producers. Supporters chanted and waved on respective screen quarters, cheering whenever another seat was snatched. And MacGyver’s deceitful smile on the right grew steadily more smug. On the left was Tellman, unwavering in her values and as stoic as a wronged rhinoceros, defiant to the end.

‘You are going to do something, aren’t you?’

Shannon asked again, thinking Casey too absorbed to have heard; Casey’s chair was pulled close to the screen, the volume turned high. But Casey had heard.

‘What can I do? I’ve had my say. We all have.’

For all it had been worth.

‘We are not smart enough to weed twisted creeds and falsehoods from pretty speeches. Either that or we benefit from and fund the lies. And you can do something.’

Raucous applause and self-righteous screams from five thousand voices and ten thousand hands to the right. Another seat was theirs.

‘Come on,’ Shannon urged. Shannon’s knuckles were white and cold as though touched by winter. Shannon gripped a phone tight, encouraging Tellman’s troops and firing barbed messages through the fray at MacGyver’s. It was war across the state. ‘You could take control of this. You must have thought about it.’

‘Not my call.’

‘He’ll make that same call on a million people if you don’t do it to him.’

Casey repeated listlessly. ‘Not my call.’

Shannon tried to reason with Casey. ‘It’s not like it’d take an explosion. Just one little aneurysm. No one will ever know. He deserves it.’

Casey had thought about it, of course. It was impossible not to when Casey wanted so badly to act. But what would an aneurysm solve? Tellman was still losing; she would lose. If Casey stepped up on MacGyver’s imminent victory, though the mourning period would be long, the right-hand successor would step in before MacGyver was even in the ground. Those millions souls would still suffer.

It was too late.

‘No one will know,’ Shannon was still saying, the screen focused on pasty faces at Tellman’s community headquarters, their shoulders slumped, signs dangling by their sides and lips long-since drooped and morose. ‘People will think the pressure got to him.’

The pressure. That would certainly be what got to him, if Casey had a real say.

The numbers were now skewed so far it was a wonder the television studio hadn’t toppled.

‘She’s going to congratulate him!’ Tellman took up a phone even as Shannon and a million more sent message after useless message imploring she stop. ‘Casey, please!’

But it was too late. Too late to solve this mess. Too late to save a million souls from the man who had campaigned for and by their fate.

No, not a man. It was evil who sat to the right of the television screen, whose phone now rang.

Casey’s eyes blurred with pixels, so near the television. Casey’s gut wrenched, stomach acids boiled, lungs blew cyclones into being. Casey’s heart burned.

Even as he lifted the phone to his ear and greeted his opponent with courtesy so insincere, MacGyver’s eyes widened. He winced, and touched two tentative fingers to his left temple.

He wasn’t the only one feeling the pressure.

Guest Blogging Over at Michelle’s

Sent in a guest post to lovely Michelle to take up space over in her corner of the internet. Michelle Proulx is a highly talented self-published author who specialises in young adult sci fi romances, a wonderfully fun genre there never seems to be enough of.

A random scene was generated for the guest post purpose by the nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverb supplied by Michelle herself. Her chosen words created an entirely different scenario to that which I usually write, featuring a magical hit-girl, a purple poodle fluffier than any sheep and a face handsome enough to banish hunger.  Twas heaps of fun.

You can check out the post here, and while you’re over at Michelle’s make sure to have a click on her brilliantly-titled novel Imminent Danger and How to Fly Straight Into It.

Mathematics in the Elements

A picture in 100 words:

Taken 9 July 2006 out a car window while driving over a bridge somewhere between Sydney and Brisbane

Taken 9 July 2006 out a car window while driving over a bridge somewhere between Sydney and Brisbane

Heaven was in the water while  river in turn claimed sky. Symmetry flanked the blackness of sun-stripped hills, and my eyes were irrevocably captured. Mathematics knows no boundaries. It was in the air and water and the earth that divides, alive in the elements and the cloud that streaked ever outward, an explosion of soft violet.

The blemish I now plainly see, a stark failure of light and technology captured upon this moment, took years to pierce my awareness.

‘How can you not have seen?’ Jude asked in disbelief.

I ignored the scepticism.  No human error could ruin this magic.

 

Dry Spell

Just saw the results for the young adult short story competition I entered back in January. Failed to achieve any recognition, though was expecting that more and more after reading something indicating that the judges may not approve of violence in young adult stories. Excuses are bad, though. Just wasn’t good enough. But even though it’s not literary magazine material, I still like it. Wanted to share. There are a few Australian terms throughout – if any non-Australian readers need an explanation, let me know 🙂

*

The instant the engine spluttered silent, Paul threw himself from the passenger seat.

Don’t speak. Don’t engage. Don’t look up.

Monstrous clouds soaked up the sky, so black and harsh they could have been smoke. The stagnant air Paul breathed was near as thick with moisture, though the earth was sucked dry, two years of drought tanning the adjacent school oval, blades sharper than a field of thumbtacks. According to the most recent dam levels update, Wivenhoe lingered at a distressing eighteen per cent. Paul had long since gnawed his nails down to ten tiny, stinging nubs.

Don’t look up.

Parents and friends congregating in the car park peered skyward with such expectation. Several optimists even carried umbrellas. Paul threaded through them, knowing better. Heaven wouldn’t spare a drop.

Don’t engage.

He shouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t last. Not with the clouds bearing down on him. Not with the itch of his knuckles, each larger than a quail egg. His fists were solid enough to collide with brick, a truckload of angst and hard teenage muscle behind the blow, and retract un-shattered. That was fact. He’d seen for himself only two days ago, five times in a row.

Don’t engage.

“Paul! Hang on, love.”

Mum at last disentangled from her seatbelt.

“You should really think about getting your learner’s,” she said, gliding across the bitumen in her slip-on sandals.

Both dust-choked vehicles flanking theirs had large red Ls stuck in both windscreens.

“How can we give you the old ute if you never get your licence?”

“Don’t want to drive,” Paul muttered, edging away from her apprehensively.

Operating a malfunctioning machine gun under urgent orders to cease fire. That’s the sorry disaster Paul likened his driving to.

“You could change your mind,” Mum countered cajolingly. Beneath the car park floodlights, Paul’s looming mass cast her elfin form entirely in shadow.

You could break her… you should…

Paul’s breath shuddered in his chest.

Big Bill got her pretty good…

Rain had bucketed horizontally that day, distorting the sirens. In his mind, Paul saw Mum splayed on the cold tiles in his mind, shattered like a lobbed porcelain doll’s delicate face. Dad was crumpled beside her, bawling. Paul had been forced to leave his rugby club, once Dad’s arrest hit the news. The managers would have no connection with the disgraced forward.

“Lucky it wasn’t worse. And lucky it was me,” Mum had said fervently to a newly-subdued Paul once she’d been discharged, “not you or Deano.”

You’re bigger than him… you could do more…

Mum reached to touch Paul’s arm fondly.

“It’ll be hard to get around, once you’re on your own.”

His giant’s hand smashed Mum’s skull into the bitumen with a nauseating crunch, splintering her nose, riddling her bleeding brain with bone shards…

Break her… Do it…

NO!

“Don’t touch me!” Paul hissed wildly. Mum’s chipped pink fingertips stilled, just brushing his T-shirt sleeve.

“Don’t want the ute,” Paul mumbled, despising himself. “Save it for Deano.”

Leaving Mum behind, Paul ducked into the auditorium, passing near the diminutive principal. He remembered her from his own elementary school years.

She’d do…

The principal’s right forearm shattered in his grip…

Paul shook his head violently.

Don’t be so choosy… What about him…?

He slammed that cheery kid collecting gold-coin donations into the wall, fists buried in each kidney…

Paul groaned, mashing his face into his palms.

“Paul Fields?”

The principal studied him, mildly alarmed.

“Is something wrong?”

Paul’s fingers twitched.

Don’t engage!

“Nothing,” he muttered, sure he’d almost grabbed her. Evading her gaze, he escaped to an isolated seat in the second-to-back row. He’d barely hunched down when satin rustled, and chair-legs scraped beside him.

“Can’t you sit someplace else?” Paul growled as Mum arranged her skirts.

“Paul, love…” Mum began hesitantly as Paul knotted and drove his fists into his thighs, hard.

“Jenny!”

Voices meshing in child- and traffic-related banter, three mums and a grandma filed into the seats beside Mum, demanding her attention.

“Bloody ridiculous—roadwork at six, Jenny! On a Friday! We almost didn’t make it!”

One hit… That’s all it’d take…

Paul snapped that old hag’s collarbone…

No!

He moaned as a beefy dad dropped heavily into the seat on his right.

Paul’s fists pummelled relentlessly into his bloated gut…

Please stop!

How long can we last like this…? Stop being selfish…

“No,” Paul whispered as the principal stepped under spotlight in the darkened hall, audience hushing compliantly.

Yanking a scratched MP3 player from his pocket as they were welcomed to the end-of-year performance, Paul muffled the principal with his soundproofing earbuds, turning up the volume. Satisfied, he tucked his chin into his chest, and closed his eyes.

You can’t ignore it forever…

But there was no blood. No pain.

Paul began to unwind, near-permanent state of distress waning.

Clueless of what passed onstage, Paul coped well until the intermission. The vibrations of hundreds of unseen soles scuffling to buy drinks and queue outside the bathrooms were hard to endure.

Anyone… Choose anyone…

Paul stayed glued to his seat. He nearly sprang when a petite hand brushed his shoulder, overwound and nearing snapping point. Heart galloping, Paul snatched the water Mum offered, gulping down half the bottle in two swallows.

Settling down as the lights dimmed, Paul was half asleep when Mum prodded him gently. He groggily opened his eyes. Red curtains were closing.

“Over?”

“No, grade three’s next. Deano’ll be looking out for us. It’ll upset him if you’re not watching.”

“Can’t watch,” Paul protested as Mum pulled out his earbuds.

“You never talk to him anymore,” Mum whispered as the curtains re-opened on scraggly lines of eight-year-olds in rat ears and whiskers. “I know you’re still having a rough time…”

“I’m fine.”

“But how’s he meant to take it when you leave every time he enters a room?”

Onstage, Deano sported a magnificent handlebar moustache, presiding over the townsfolk as mayor. He’d probably been cast due to his bulk. Paul had been chubby at eight, too.

Little worshipful Deano… he’d more than do…

Paul’s hands were at his brother’s throat, slowly squeezing, strangling…

“Mum…” he breathed, petrified.

“Just watch.”

Unwillingly, Paul watched Deano hire a spritely piper girl in coloured tights to lure the rats away.

Ease the suffering… break him…

Deano refused to pay up in the next scene, crossing his arms pompously across his chest. The finale saw him weeping noisily as the tiny classmate playing his son danced away to a lively, pre-recorded tune.

Imagine if you killed him… that would fix everything…

“No,” Paul frantically denied as proud applause swept through the auditorium. Mum nudged him, and he mechanically brought his trembling hands together.

Deano found his family quickly amid the hubbub outside; Paul stood out like a burning lighthouse.

“Mum!”

“Deano! You were fantastic, love!”

Mum flung her arms about her younger son, hugging enthusiastically.

“How was I?” Deano looked to his brother, scratching his face beneath the itchy moustache before pulling it off. “Paul?”

“You were… great,” Paul managed to say. ‘Just great.’

Alight with glee, Deano lunged, fastening his pudgy, loving arms around Paul’s middle.

Unstoppable headlights glared.

Snap his neck…! Use those gruesomely engorged fingers and kill him…!

“Deano…” Paul choked, fighting for control. “That’s enough…”

But Deano wouldn’t let go, burrowing his grinning face into Paul’s chest.

KILL HIM NOW!

With a wild cry, Paul violently shoved his little brother away. Surprised, Deano nearly hit the concrete, Mum just managing to snag him before he toppled. Deano sniffled, skinny lips rippling with heartbreaking hurt.

“Paul, what the hell?!”

But Paul hurtled drunkenly to the side, heedless of Mum’s exclamation. Every scrap of his impressive weight and power summoned, Paul hurled himself into the auditorium’s solid stonework wall, elbow first.

The hideous crunch split the festive atmosphere. Paul howled. Savagely, he gritted his teeth, forcing his anguish back behind them.

That’ll do…

“Paul!”

Mum rushed forward, aghast, as Paul slumped down the wall. His tears stoppered by shock, Deano trailed after her.

“Paul… oh, love, why would you…? Come on.”

Mum swiftly gathered her wits.

“Let’s get you out of here.”

Every witness stared, shaken by the violent conclusion to the night’s events. So enthralled by his gasps as a pair of burly fathers gingerly raised Big Bill’s son to his feet, it took the first thunderous rumble and a few excited children’s cries of “it’s raining!” for onlookers to notice they were already drenched.

It’ll do for now… But it won’t be long before you’ll have to break another dry spell…

Rain pelted from heaven, drops larger than bombshells. Beneath the deafening tumult hammering the car roof, Paul gulped brokenly as Mum snapped the wipers on full-blast, and sped out onto the road.

Next time, don’t wuss out… Deano might’ve bought even more than Mum did… He’s worth a La Niña, to you…

Magical Costume Inspiration, Please

Heading for the Adelaide Intervarsity Choral Festival for 10 days in January. Fees are paid, flights booked (though not yet paid), forms filled in, and so on. We’ll be singing Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. I haven’t heard them, but I’ve heard of them. And from what I’ve heard, it should be a pretty amazing sing. We’ll be doing a few other smaller pieces too, including Lauridsen’s O Nata Lux, which I’ve sung before, and absolutely adore. Shall be a little disappointed though, that I’ll probably be moving down a little to the soprano 2 part. Fewer soprano 2s have signed up, and I’m more than happy to sing it. But I already know the sop 1 part for O Nata Lux, and it is beyond divine to sing.

Not been thinking too much about the music, just yet. I’ll listen to Rach’s Vespers at some point before I go. Right now, what I’m thinking about is the opening party theme, and the costume I must procure to look suitably festive. The theme for this party is “Magic,” which should be a ridiculously easy brief for me to fill, given what I write. But I cannot sew. And all my magic-esque costumes have already been worn and seen by many of the people who will be in attendance at the festival: my Arwen formal dress I wore in 2007 at the medieval themed opening party; I’ve dressed up as Luna Lovegood for a Harry Potter themed choir camp; and a simple magical fairy princess costume with my crown and whatever wispy dress I can throw together is a fallback plan I’d prefer not to fall back on.

So, what are my options.

1) Anyone from pretty much any fantasy novel I know of: possible, but with my next to nonexistent sewing skills and the lack of cheap chain mail and elven cloaks available on the market, my best bet is a Harry Potter wizard disguised as a Muggle. Suppose that could be funny.

2) A Cirque du Soleil-like character: I love cirque and would happily dress wildly and wonderfully as its performers do. However, again with the lack of sewing ability … probably too difficult. And extravagant. Any such costume wouldn’t fit easily in a suitcase.

3) A mystical creature: but which one? A basilisk? A chimera? A narwhal selkie? Why are there no magical creature costumes that could possibly be simple (aside from the obvious elves and dwarves, which really aren’t all that simple once you think about it)? Though at the moment, I am leaning a little towards narwhal selkie. Or even just your basic, run-of-the-mill seal selkie. Cause that’s just who I am. Not entirely sure how to go about making the costume though. At all.

4) Dress in period clothes and claim to be cursed in a certain way: could be fun – paint on green spots, or feign a tick. But it is a bit odd. The last opening festival party I went to my costume was a touch obscure (theme was diamonds are forever (?) and I dressed as a successful business woman who could afford diamonds but preferred pearls), and nobody got it …

5) A witch: enough said.

6) A zombie: tempting. I love dressing up as zombies. But the theme is magic, not horror. Magical fairy princess zombie?

7) The humanoid version of my star sign: I think the general theme of the entire festival is numerology, or something along those lines. This kind of thing might be appropriate.

Any ideas? Could use a bit of brainstorming assistance. What’s a magic-related costume that should be relatively simple (and cheap …) to make/assemble, and transport from Brisbane to Adelaide by plane?

Old Stories – Susan Starlight (section two)

Really not sure any more after this is worth salvaging.  It’s not like the story’s actually resolved – it was barely started.  May come back to it for fun in the very distant future, but since I’m thinking of junking it and using parts for another story, more likely not.  So, after a very brief meeting, it’s goodbye we say to the Susan Starlight.

Here’s section two. 

The ship’s client sat at the desk in his quarters.  Only the Captain’s quarters were grander aboard the Susan Starlight – there was space to spare, a fine hanging on the wall, and every piece of furniture shone.  The man was studying an old map in various stages of shabbiness, absorbed.  Soon, there was a tentative knock at the door.  ‘Come in,’ he called, finger tracing an imaginary line across the light brown ocean.  His apprentice stuck his head through the door.  ‘Ira, what is it?’ the man asked without turning around.  ‘I told you not to bother me.’

Ira, a young boy no more than fourteen, did not leave.  ‘Master, what exactly are we doing on this ship?’ he asked.  Although Ira could not see his face, his master smiled.

‘What’s it look like we’re doing?’

Ira shrugged, almost unnaturally large green eyes curious.  The man’s smile grew wider.

‘We’re looking for buried treasure.’

‘Buried treasure?’ a shrill voice exclaimed as a cloud of ginger hair zipped into the room, almost flattening Ira as she stormed over to confront the man at the desk.  ‘Tobias, you’re mad!  Why’re we going on another wild goose chase?  I don’t complain when we’re tramping through forests and deserts for days on end, but the middle of the ocean?  This is just plain cruel!  What do you mean, buried treasure?’

‘You do so complain,’ Ira muttered, annoyed by the girl who often made him do her share of work and expected him to listen to her rants and constant whines.

‘Laurel, calm down,’ Tobias said, and they both saw his grin as he spun around his chair, bringing the map with him.  He patted her head like a child with his free hand.  ‘I know what I’m doing, all right?’

Laurel jerked away in disgust.  ‘All hail the mighty sorcerer, who is never wrong,’ she snapped.  ‘And may I just remind you who it was that’s taken us halfway around the country in the last eight months spouting at least a dozen other “I know what I’m doings” on the way?’

‘Laurel,’ Ira said in a warning voice, and she instantly turned her fuming anger on him.

‘Why don’t you talk some sense into him, he’s your master.  Do something about him, isn’t that your job?  You can’t really be a sorcerer’s apprentice – I’ve never seen you do a single spell, not one!’

‘I would if I knew how!’ Ira yelled back, instantly regretting that he let himself become annoyed, especially in front of Tobias.  Though he respected his master as a sorcerer, Tobias had yet to impress Ira with his teaching skill.  Ira was expected to just watch and pick things up.  Ira thought this was hardly the way for an apprentice to learn, at least not without accompanying explanations.  And he’d had been so honoured in the beginning.  He hadn’t been the best student in his year, yet well-known, talented Tobias had chosen him.  Ira was yet to find out why.

Tobias finally set down his map.  Ira slumped slightly, bowing his head to his chest.  He felt his master’s sarcastic grin bore into him.  ‘So, Ira.  You think I should make more of an effort to teach you, right?’

‘Uh,’ Ira stammered, ‘that might be good.  I suppose.’

‘Okay, then,’ Tobias said, surprisingly casual, and motioned him over.  ‘Laurel, go away for a while, would you?’

Muttering angrily about men and magicians, Laurel huffily stumped out of the room.  Tobias looked hard at Ira.  Ira stared back, only a slight hint of nervousness showing through.  This was a lie.  He was very, very nervous.

‘So, you think you’re ready to learn some real magic?’

‘I think … I’ve been ready for months.’

‘Do you now?’ Tobias mused, quite pleased with Ira’s determination.  But Tobias knew better than anyone that such virtues as determination could, if not carefully pruned, grow into far more than ambition.  It could become hunger for power.  Hunger that had to be satisfied.  Determination had to be carefully watched.  But looking at his young, wide-eyed apprentice, Tobias thought it unlikely Ira ever develop such dangerous hunger.  ‘Okay, then.  What do you remember seeing me do the most, these months?’

‘Skive off paying tram fares using my jacket sleeves,’ Ira told him truthfully.

‘No,’ Tobias replied with forced patience, ‘what spell?’

‘Oh,’ Ira said.  He thought for a moment.  ‘That, uh, thing when you sort of let black light come out of your hand?  It usually explodes something?’

Tobias nodded and lifted his billowy sleeves away, letting a small ball of light well up in his upturned palm.  ‘A simple calling of power,’ he said, watching the black glow, a strange expression on his face.  ‘When raw power is called on like this, how can it be used?’

‘I don’t know,’ Ira responded.  ‘We were never taught about raw power in class.  Mostly just the words to incantations and spells, and the theories behind them.  That type of thing.’

‘I thought so,’ Tobias smiled grimly, closing his fist so the ball of light faded and disappeared.  ‘Do you think you can do it?’

Ira hesitated, and then nodded cautiously, noting the strange gleam that still flickered through his master’s cold eyes, so faint most would not have noticed.

‘Then do it,’ Tobias ordered harshly.  ‘Now!’

Ira stumbled back in surprise, but began to focus on his left hand, willing the same light to appear there.  Nothing happened.  Ira felt great disappointment well up inside him, thinking of how the other apprentices pleased and impressed their masters, and how much he wanted to do the same.

As his desire to do well grew within him, Ira noticed a tingle in his chest.  The tingle quickly grew to an almost crushing pressure.  Pleased, but smarting terribly, Ira directed this raw, stinging power down through his cramping left arm.  He was positive he was doing it right, though he was startled by the hurt it caused.  It was excruciating.  Ira gripped his left arm tightly to keep it from shaking as pain channelled down it, his whole entire form quaking with effort.  His already pale hand began to lighten, and lavender light began to burn amongst his fingers.

Unwilling for an unchecked fire to burn freely in his hand, Ira tried to force himself to master and throw it from himself as he’d seen Tobias do so many times.  After several failed attempts, just as his hand was beginning to scorch, the lightfire flew from his hand, blasting a hole through the wall of the still docked Susan Starlight.

Ira collapsed in a heap on the floor, hearing soft footsteps and seeing his master’s shape loom over him.  ‘Very good,’ Tobias said, patching the wall, faint black light drifting among the pieces as they flew back into place, shutting out Laurel’s prying eyes.  He then reached out one hand and pulled the still shivering boy to his feet.

‘That’s something they didn’t teach you about in school, isn’t it?’ he said gently.  Ira made no attempt to answer, but soon pushed Tobias’s hand away and tried to stand on his own.  ‘Those old fools don’t know anything about the real world.  They only let their students study from useless old tomes and practice a few silly tricks, conjuring worthless coins and making them float in the air.  That only needs a trickle of the power you just showed me.  The only real way to learn magic is to know how to summon your power, and have a good reason to use it.’

‘So what you’re saying,’ Ira said, leaning against the wall and shaking off his master’s hand as Tobias again tried to steady him, ‘is that all you need to be a sorcerer is to call power, and then make it up as you go?’

‘The only way to be a real sorcerer is to have real purpose.’

‘But making it up isn’t honourable,’ Ira protested.  ‘The study of books, ancient, proven methods of sorcery.  That’s the honourable way to study magic.’

Ira was unwilling to believe all the books he had slaved over, all the conjuring and summoning rituals he had tried to memorise, meant nothing.

‘Kid, how can you talk about the honourable way to study magic when the school that preached that rubbish wanted to kick you out?’

Ira’s face was a mask of shocked confusion.  ‘That’s right, kid.  You were, and still are, hopeless at their ways.  If it weren’t for me you’d be back to being some nobody farm boy with no skill, no talent.  Nothing.  But I saw potential in you that day.  Potential to be a real sorcerer.  And you just proved me right.  Not many of your so-called honourable sorcerers can do what you just did.’

Ira breathed heavily, and managed to hoist himself from the wall and support himself.  He didn’t know who he should be angrier with.  Tobias felt almost uncomfortable, and wondered whether he should have told Ira all this in such a way.  ‘How do you feel?’ he asked Ira almost apprehensively, but not quite.  Still calm and cool.

‘Angry,’ Ira said, green eyes blazing.  Tobias flashed a short smile of satisfaction when he noticed the new, fine lavender lines running through the green of his apprentice’s eyes, just like the black ones lacing his own ice eyes.

‘Do you want to continue training as a real sorcerer?’ Tobias asked.

Ira didn’t hesitate for a moment.  ‘Yes.’